In her latest film, the intensely pleasurable First Cow, celebrated American director Kelly Reichardt (Certain Women, Meek’s Cutoff, Wendy and Lucy) once again trains her perceptive and patient eye on the Pacific Northwest, this time evoking an authentically hardscrabble early nineteenth century way of life.
A taciturn loner and skilled cook (John Magaro) has travelled west to join fur trappers in Oregon Territory, where he forges a connection with a Chinese immigrant (Orion Lee) who is also seeking his fortune. Soon the two collaborate on a highly successful business, but its longevity is perilously reliant upon the clandestine participation of a nearby wealthy landowners (Toby Jones) prized milking cow.
From this simple, if delightfully idiosyncratic premise, Reichardt constructs an interrogation of foundational Americana that recalls her earlier triumph Old Joy in its sensitive depiction of male friendship, yet is driven by a mounting suspense – and a shrewd sense of the brutalities of the marketplace – all its own. Again showing her distinct talent for depicting the peculiar rhythms of individual lives and an ability to capture the immense, unsettling quietude of rural America, Reichardt absorbs you so fully into her characters’ world and quest for survival that at the end of First Cow‘s two hour run time, you feel you have departed a seance. Superbly distinctive, an oddity and a fable, it’s a triumph.